This is National EMS Week.

Today’s Colorado story of EMS dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is from Paul Mattson, EMS Chief, South Park Ambulance District.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is this will take longer to overcome than the public expects. More like the “Spanish Flu” of 1918. Society needs to be prepared. And I am afraid of our staffing if anyone gets sick. We have only 20 and if five get sick we have a real problem. We are going to be dealing with COVID-19 long-term; survivors will be damaged (medically) for life. It is tough — on every call COVD-19 is in the back of your mind.

How are you and your crewmates personally handling this pandemic?


Everyone is doing well, actually. To the EMS veterans, it is just part of the job. We have expanded recently and for the newer crews, it is more stressful. But everyone has the attitude, this is their job. Their actually is (up here) a greater chance of getting run over on the highway. People that enter EMS think about the risks before they even get started. Personally, I’m more afraid of going to the grocery store, with many people not wearing masks.

What is most troubling to your EMS agency?

The problem of PPE supply was frustrating early on. But our OEM had a good supply left over from the Ebola epidemic. It is still frustrating trying to get infrared thermometers. We ordered them in February.

It is frustratingly hard to get the public to take this seriously. Early on we published COVID-19 information on our Facebook page and we received so many nasty comments we had to delete the post!

What is the most difficult aspect of EMS care today?

Everything is changing daily. Not knowing how to get ready for COVID-19 patients was complicated early on. Did we need to suit up in hazmat on every call? We called in to our medical director at St. Anthony Hospital and got good guidance on what we needed to do with a particular patient. With time it has gotten easier. But we are still hit with so much information. It is an information and logistics overload!

What has been the best?

This pandemic reminds us that we are all in this together as a profession. Watching agencies that became overwhelmed and how they handled it, such as Eagle County and Summit County, made all of us in EMS proud. No one just did not show up. EMS agencies that got slammed showed the public what we do. And how we deal with the emotional toll. The majority of the healthcare system is made up of individuals doing the best they can, no matter the circumstances.

What has surprised you?

How poorly the feds have handled this. That is the real purpose of government. Its #1 mission is to take care of people, and it let us down. I’ve seen too much greed and self-interest, like that in a third-world country.

What has not surprised you?

The response by EMS professionals, everywhere. Seriously showing each other what is may become in their area. So much that our public does not see. Sharing experiences, so we learned lessons quickly from those that got slammed, like Eagle and Summit. Not the fed’s “nothing to look at here” attitude. We didn’t realize we were going to have to stay up with every change. It’s overwhelming and consumes your life like nothing else. These are tough times mentally — are we ready?

Can you offer an uplifting experience?

It is gratifying that the public recognizes our challenges. Like after 9/11. “Do you need anything? Can we help?” This has brought people together. A man called us to offer several boxes of masks, leftover from when a member of his family was ill a few years ago. He just brought them to us. It is these tiny acts of kindness that mean so much more than a sign.

What do you think will be the long-lasting EMS story coming from this pandemic?

We (EMS) won’t get caught short the next time. Will the public understand? It’s like the hurricane that veers off at the last moment. You cried out, but I don’t believe you this time.

And it will be apparent that EMS funding is inappropriate. I hope we finally get to the point that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.



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